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Look Out for Foxtails

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/10/2007 in General Articles

At first glance, they seem innocent enough. After all, they are just seedpods looking for a place to lay down their roots. But beyond that innocent exterior lurks a menace that can easily wreak havoc with your dog’s health.

We aren’t talking about some alien life form here, but rather, a very earthly phenomenon known as the foxtail. Found all over the United States at various times of the year, these plant parts are the bane of dog owners everywhere.

What Are Foxtails?

We’ve all seen foxtails out in nature, whether in a vacant lot, along a roadside or in a mountain meadow. Foxtails are simply fox-tail-like clusters of seeds on the stalks of certain types of grasses. The clusters have sharp points designed by nature to penetrate the soil once the cluster comes loose from the plant, enabling the seeds to take hold in the ground and grow roots.

To help ensure that the seeds will be able to take root, the seed cluster contains barbs that make it hard for the cluster to come loose from the soil once it penetrates. The outside of the cluster also harbors a bacterium that contains an enzyme designed to break down cellular matter. This helps the seed burrow into the ground past other plants.

Grasses with this feature can be found all around the country, but are most common in the Western United States. The greatest foxtail problem occurs in California.

Foxtails are most troublesome to dog owners in the late spring and summer in drier climates because this is when they come loose from the plant and “look for” a place to bury themselves.

The foxtail’s unique design provides grasses with a very successful method of reseeding in the wild. Unfortunately, these same features are what make foxtails a problem for dog owners. When a dog comes in contact with a foxtail, the cluster attaches to the dog’s fur and begins to move inward as the dog moves. The barbs on the cluster keep the foxtail from falling off or “backing out” of the fur, and the enzymes in the foxtail’s bacterium begin to break down the dog’s hair and tissue. The foxtail begins to work its way into the dog’s body, just as it would work its way into the soil had it entered the ground.

Any dog that spends time in an area ripe with foxtails is at risk for picking up one or more of these problematic seed casings.

Health Hazard

Dogs that come into contact with foxtails stand a good chance of having one of these insidious plant pieces work its way into the body. The result can be a very sick dog. The degree of illness depends on the area of the body where the foxtail entered and the amount of damage it has caused. Foxtails can enter the nasal passages, eyes, ears and mouth, and can work their way into the dog’s lungs, along the backbone and into many other locations throughout the body.

It’s up to a veterinarian to locate the foxtail inside the dog’s body and remove it. In cases where the foxtail is beyond the reach of tweezers or forceps, the dog will need to undergo surgery for removal of the foxtail.

Keeping Foxtails Away

Given the potentially destructive action of foxtails that come into contact with dogs, it’s imperative that dog owners in foxtail heavy areas use preventative measures to keep their pets free from this hazardous plant part.

Try to avoid walking your dog in fields or on roadsides where foxtails are prevalent. Since the dry season is the only time foxtails are really a problem, you don’t have to worry about walking your dog in these areas when the grass is green.

When camping or hiking with your dog, keep an eye out for foxtails in areas where your dog is walking or running. Try to keep him out of these areas if you can.

In the event that your dog comes into contact with a foxtail-infested area, be sure to go over him carefully to look for any foxtails that may have lodged in his coat. Dogs with thick hair are at greatest risk of you missing a foxtail, so look closely if your dog has an undercoat that could easily hide one of these problematic seed clusters.

To help guard against foxtails, some owners give their dogs a thorough grooming after the dog has come into contact with these plants. This includes combing through the dog’s coat with a fine-tooth comb. Owners also examine the dog’s entire body, especially the undersides of the paws, the armpits, stomach and inside the ears.

Owners of dogs with very thick hair sometimes clip their dogs down to help prevent foxtails from sticking to the hair and becoming hidden beneath it.

Signs that your dog may have a foxtail in his nose include sudden sneezing, pawing at his nose and possible bleeding from the nostril. As the foxtail works its way deeper into your dog’s sinuses, the dog’s reaction may eventually dissipate, leading you to believe whatever was bothering him has gone away. In reality, the foxtail has become even more dangerously embedded and may cause severe infection.

A foxtail lodged in your dog’s ear will cause him to paw at his ear, tilt his head, shake his head, cry and even possibly move in a stiff manner when he walks. You may not be able to see the foxtail since it may have become embedded deep within the ear.

Foxtails sometimes become lodged in the eyes, and cause tearing, squinting, and mucous discharge. Your dog may paw at his eye, but you may not be able to see the foxtail if it has lodged beneath the dog’s eyelid.

Your dog may even swallow a foxtail, causing him to gag, retch, cough, eat grass, stretch his neck and swallow repeatedly.

If you suspect your dog has encountered a foxtail that has entered his body and shows any of these signs, be sure to take him to a vet immediately if you can’t remove the foxtail yourself. It’s important to act quickly. Foxtails can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

Dealing with Nippy Dogs

Posted on: October 8th, 2007 by

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/8/2007 in Training Tips Articles

If you’ve been around dogs for much of your life, you have, at some point, been touched by a dog’s teeth. While these experiences were probably benign — an overexcited puppy mouthing your arm or a friendly pooch gnawing on your hand — the potential for bodily harm is real whenever canine teeth meet human skin.

Nipping is an annoying and potentially dangerous habit in dogs. While most dogs nip as part of play, some do it to send a loud message. Whether your dog is nipping out of playfulness or aggression, you shouldn’t ignore this unpleasant habit.

Before you can figure out how to stop your dog from nipping, you need to understand why he’s doing it. If your dog is a puppy, it’s likely he’s nipping because he wants to engage you in a game (puppies nip each other for fun), or because he’s teething. Either way, this is the time to teach your pup that his teeth should never make contact with human skin, no matter what the reason.

Start by letting your puppy know that nipping is not appreciated. The minute he starts to bite you, say “No bite!” in a loud voice and end the play session immediately. Do this consistently until your youngster gets the message that when he bites you, you react unpleasantly and then ignore him.

In the meantime, give him objects he can safely gnaw on to satisfy his need to chew. Ask your veterinarian to recommend some toys and treats that are safe for chewing. Be sure to enroll your puppy in obedience classes too so he learns that he must respect humans as he grows up.

If your dog is already grown and still has a tendency to nip when he wants to play, use the same method for teaching him that biting is unacceptable. Tell him “No bite!” and walk away–and do this each and every time. If you are consistent with this method, he’ll get the message soon enough.

If your dog nips because he wants to stop you from doing something, like grooming him or moving him off the bed or couch, your problem may be more difficult to solve.

A dog who nips when he objects to what you want him to do has not accepted the fact that you are the pack leader in your household. In other words, the dog doesn’t accept your authority and is basically telling you to take a hike. This behavior is not okay —unless of course you want your dog to start running your household.

To change your dog’s attitude, you need to change his perception of you. The best way to do this is to enroll in an obedience class. Here, you will learn how to gain your dog’s respect, while at the same time teaching him that he must follow your commands — not the other way around.

Remember that your new role as leader doesn’t end when class is over. Practice obedience at home as well. You want to drive home the point that you are the one in charge, at home as well as in class.

If your dog’s nipping continues despite your efforts at obedience training, consult with a professional dog trainer. If your dog has been allowed to get away with nipping for a long time, his habits may be harder to break without professional help.

If your dog is okay with adults but nips at children, your problem is serious. Even a small dog can easily hurt a child, or at the very least scare him or her to the point that the child becomes terrified of dogs. You should consult a professional trainer for assistance with this issue since this type of nipping can also escalate into more dangerous aggression.

Woof Woof Road Trip

Posted on: September 28th, 2007 by

A 5-Point Plan to Put the Brakes on Your Cat-chasing Dog

Posted on: September 28th, 2007 by

Posted by Amy Shojai on 9/28/2007 in Training Tips Articles

Does your dog chase your cat? More than 40 percent of pet lovers keep multiple pets. While they often get along famously, some dogs treat the family feline like a windup toy. Constant chasing turns even easy-going cats into nervous wrecks, and even dogs who mean no harm may accidentally injure a cat or kitten.

Personalities predict success. Some dog breeds are naturally less predatory than others while some cats may be more tolerant of pestering canines. However, terrier and sight hound breeds are genetically hard-wired to chase scurrying critters. Fleeing by a cat can trigger predatory aggression in some dogs of these breeds.

It’s vital that owners educate their dogs on the rules of the house to maintain harmony. To successfully achieve this, all members of the house must be consistent in reinforcing good doggy manners. Here, we offer a five-point plan to put the brakes on your cat-chasing dog. Before each training session, make sure you have a leash, plenty of treats and, of course, lots of patience.

1. Ensure your cat’s safety by keeping your dog under leash control inside your house during “canine class” time. Prevent ANY chase from taking place. Use a long leash so that you can quickly step on it at the first sign that your dog is about to dash after your cat. Even if your cat instigates the session (some cats tease dogs unmercifully), don’t allow any chase or tag games until after your dog has learned proper manners.

2. Keep an abundant supply of aromatic-beckoning, tasty treats handy so that you are ready to reinforce no chasing by your dog at the presence of a cat. These special treats should only be used for cat-proofing lessons and should be small enough that your dog needs only a chew or two to enjoy and swallow and be ready to heed your next treat-dispensing cue.

3. Give your dog a treat every time your cat makes an appearance. Reinforce good behavior by coming up with an easy-to-remember phrase, such as, “Cookie, cat!” and when your dog stays sitting – without chasing your cat – deliver a treat. Offer this payday whether your dog acts calm, excited, merely looks at your cat, barks, or anything else. The goal is to have your dog comprehend this cause-and-effect equation: a cat’s presence equals tasty treats.

4. Use a leash to keep your dog a safe distance from your cat – but do not use the leash to force your dog’s attention or behavior into what you want him to do. Let his brain process the equation in his own time. Some dogs “get it” right away, and others take longer. Within a few sessions, nearly every dog should start looking to you for a treat each time they hear, “Cookie, cat!” or your cat appears. Rather than lunging and chasing instinctively, your dog should be learning to stay and expect a reward.

5. Reinforce this behavior for at least a week or two in mini-sessions a few times a day. The sessions need only to be a few minutes in duration – but no more than 10 minutes – because it’s difficult for some dogs, especially young ones, to maintain attention. Brush up with more training sessions as needed.

Final advice: Make sure your dog stays leashed or separated from your cat when you are not able to supervise their interactions until you are confident that your dog’s desire to give chase has definitely been stopped in its tracks.

Achoo! Tactics to Fend Off Pet Allergies

Posted on: September 20th, 2007 by

Posted by Arden Moore on 9/20/2007 in Lifestyle

Sneezing. Runny nose. Itchy, swollen eyes. Rash.

When most of us touch and pet the coats of our dogs or cats, it’s a pleasurable experience. But some unfortunates — approximately 1 in 5 people — suffer from allergies that are set off when they touch an animal or even when they’re simply in the same room with them.

“It’s probably more common to be allergic to cats, and cats also are more clinically significant because they tend to spend more time indoors and find their way onto the bedding more often,” says Oren P. Schaefer, an allergist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Although most people blame a pet’s fur for triggering their allergies, the real cause is the proteins found in hair, saliva, urine and dander (dead skin flakes). The body views these proteins as foreign and manufactures antibodies against them. Those antibodies produce itchy eyes or runny noses – hallmarks of an allergy.

People who love pets but suffer from allergies are constantly on the prowl for a pet that won’t set off their symptoms. A number of dog and cat breeds are believed to be hypoallergenic. Among them are poodles, bichons frise, greyhounds, soft-coated wheaten terriers and Siberian cats.

The disappointing truth, however, is that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat. All animals produce dander, even hairless ones, and of course, they all produce saliva and urine.

Scientists don’t know why some people seem to be allergic to some dogs and cats, but not to others.

“Some people say, ‘Well, I’m not allergic to my cat or dog’ or ‘I’m allergic to German Shepherds, but not spaniels’ and what I tell them is ‘dogs are dogs,’ ” Dr. Schaefer says. “They all have the basic antigen – it’s identical. That said, some make more antigen than others, and some houses are cleaner than others from an allergic point of view, so there are a lot of reasons people might have trouble at the neighbor’s house and not their house and vice versa.”

One reason people might react less to a particular breed is the amount of grooming it receives. Frequent bathing and grooming can temporarily reduce the amount of dander produced.

Another reason is related to physiological changes that affect hair growth. Dogs with longer hair-growth cycles, such as poodles, may shed dead surface cells more uniformly than short-coated breeds, which shed frequently.

Size is another factor to consider. Big dogs simply produce more dander than small dogs.

In the case of Siberian cats, they appear to produce less Fel d 1—the protein that causes cat allergies — than other cats. But not everyone is able to tolerate them.

“I do not guarantee that the person will not be allergic,” says Siberian breeder Karon Hansberger of Reigning Cats cattery in Clarksburg, Maryland. “I have had quite a few people who had mild allergies be able to have the Siberians, and I have had several tell me they are still having reactions. It’s hard to say why some can tolerate the Siberian and some cannot.”

The good news is that people with pet allergies can take steps to live with their affliction — without giving up their pets. Here are eight tactics to try:

* Minimize allergic reactions by brushing and bathing your pet frequently — a task best done by someone who’s not allergic.

* Keep your pet’s coat healthy with a good diet, regular grooming and parasite control. Anything that irritates the skin surface, such as biting, licking, scratching, external parasites, bacterial or fungal infections and hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, can result in more dander.

* Use sprays or wipes — available at pet supply stores — that can help reduce the amount of dander on the pet’s body. Baby wipes may also work.

* Restrict your pet’s access to furniture and certain areas of the house, primarily your bedroom.

* Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

* Install a HEPA air filter or air purifier if you have a cat.

* Keep over-the-counter antihistamines such as liquid or chewable Benadryl on hand to help control reactions, and ask your allergist about prescription antihistamines and decongestants that may help.

* Learn to love a contemporary décor: metal, leather and wood are better choices than fabric upholstery and carpet.